MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Mindy Woods realises the important position she's been in as a queer Indigenous woman competing on the show back in 2012 and again this year.
"I feel really proud that I'm in this position," Woods tells Refinery29 Australia. "I feel privileged and I want everyone to be able to stand in their power in their industry and feel really safe and proud of who they are."
As a woman from a First Nations background in a same-sex relationship, Woods says it’s “not easy to put yourself out in the public domain” when you sign up to a show like MasterChef as there’s the possibility of facing “pushback and backlash”. But the 40-year-old, who married her wife Rachelle in 2017, says she’s been adamant about staying true to herself, speaking up about her identity and having uncomfortable conversations to set an example for others.
"I get a lot of support from my community – my Aunties, my Elders – to say stand strong and be proud of who you are and where you have come from," she says.
"It's even as simple as things like my fair skin. I'm obviously of mixed culture, and that idea that I have to justify that I identify as First Nations even though I'm fair-skinned, it comes from ignorance. It comes from a lack of education, but I feel really proud that I can be a strength for my community and stand there and be proud and be OK with those conversations."
Throughout its 14 seasons, there have only been two Indigenous contestants on the show (Woods and Tom Mosby in Season 1 in 2009) and Woods says there are a few reasons that could explain why — the first being the lack of on-screen diversity to begin with. If Indigenous people don't see their communities on television, they're unlikely to feel as though they belong there.
"Look at how much we've got, or how much lack of representation there is of Indigenous or First Nations people on our mainstream TV," she says.
"It's discouraging to a lot of people [to then apply] and when you're talking about First Nations people, that idea of being away from country and being away from home is a significant thing.
"I was away for six months and it's a long time to be away from your family, your mob, your businesses and loved ones."
Woods says not only does representation need to improve, but the filming environments must also be respectful of First Nations peoples and their culture.
"Because that connection is so strong in Indigenous communities, things have to be put in place to make it a culturally safe space," she says. "And that goes for any culture. Any production needs to find ways of making all of their productions culturally safe for all cultures within Australia."
Throughout the season, Woods strived to use native ingredients as much as she could, and ultimately finished seventh when she was eliminated this week.
The remaining contestants on the show includes four favourites (returning MasterChef stars) and two fans (amateur cooks).
The previously eliminated contestants are Sashi Cheliah (Season 10), Michael Weldon (Season 3), Christina Batista (Season 5), John Carasig (Season 7), Aldo Ortado (Season 10), Minoli De Silva (Season 13), Tommy Pham (Season 13), Ali Stoner, Jenn Lee, Chris Tran, Dulan Hapuarachchi, Harry Tomlinson, Matt Landmark, Max Krapivsky, Melanie Persson, Montana Hughes, Steph Woon and of course, Mindy.
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites airs Sunday to Thursday at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10Play.